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Inside the Recruiter's Mind

From the declining importance of the cover letter to the rise of social media, talent-acquisition specialists weigh the varying elements of the hiring process differently. How can HR ensure everyone's on the same page?

Thursday, November 12, 2015
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Forget those fluffy cover letters. Disregard that irrelevant volunteerism. Focus on just the facts -- jobs held; projects led; skills acquired. Nothing else really matters.

That, at least, is the advice of a new study by Chicago-based Addison Group, which reveals that most hiring managers really pay little attention to a lot of what job candidates send their way.

Cover letters, for example, are a mere annoyance for many recruiters, who immediately discard them. Most resumes are viewed as overly padded with information unrelated to the job being sought. And few hiring managers really look for "personality" until they request a telephone or face-to-face meeting.

The Addison Group study was largely targeted to job seekers, but it offers great insights into what is on the mind of some recruiters and hiring managers today.

"Addison Group went straight to the source, asking what hiring managers really care about when reviewing resumes," the study notes. "The survey examined several aspects of the resume, taking a look at which areas are most valued, the importance of the tailored resume, most disliked buzzwords and more."

Among the top findings: relevant work experience and skills are valued most; volunteer experience, schools attended and grade point averages are least valued.

Some HR experts suggest employers might want to take some of the findings with a grain of salt.

"I don't agree with those findings," says Kelly Workman, a Boston-based vice president at OfficeTeam, a division of Robert Half International that focuses on placing highly skilled administrative professionals. "I think that we as a society tend to go for immediate gratification. Perhaps the Addison Group is saying that the old fashioned ways of writing a cover letter no longer plays an important role, but we find that it still is very important."

For the job seeker, Workman views the cover letter as the flesh to the resume bones.

"What that cover letter allows you to do is go beyond your resume," Workman says. "It's an added exclamation point to the resume. It gives you a chance to highlight your written communication skills and a little bit more of your style."

Kathy Jeffery, vice president of human resources at Sportvision in Chicago, agrees conditionally with the Addison Group study, and suggests employers need to factor in the position a person is applying for.

Don't discount that volunteer work or internship, Jeffery says, especially in the case of young job candidates.

"If they've had a couple of internships or have volunteered in nonprofit organizations, I think the leadership can shine through," Jeffery says. "It shows a different side of them, too. It shows that they are doing good things in the world, contributing and helping themselves as well, by taking on more responsibilities than they might normally get right off the bat in an entry-level position."

One HR executive who definitely has no allegiance to cover letters is Ann King, co-founder of CVPartners, a subsidiary of Addison Group.

"For us, when a client hires us to recruit for them, when we are sending a resume, we delete the cover letter," King says. "We send a resume and [attach to it] a short bio of what our thoughts are on this candidate and why they're a good fit. The cover letter is fluffy. [Clients] are just interested in who the person has worked for, what they're doing, how their experience is relevant to the search -- getting right into the meat of the resume."

But what if you're an internal hiring manager and not an external recruiter? Does that make a difference? Not really, says King.

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"My experience with cover letters is that people use them when they are applying online, they're not using recruiters," she says. "The recruiter is your cover letter. We're the one packaging you and making you look pretty."

So what should hiring managers and recruiters be paying top attention to?

"Relevant work experience," King says. "The duties and things they've done that match the work. Maybe it's with a competitor. Maybe it's at a company with a really great brand name. Anything that they bring more to the table for the hiring manager -- good companies, relevant companies, similar industries, that sort of thing."

Look for the tailored or customized resume, Workman advises. That is, the resume that has been crafted in response to the job ad, not just a generic one-size-fits-all document.

"I always tell candidates tell me something you've done that is better than anyone else on your team; something that has a return on investment," she says.

Finally, Workman advises HR pros and hiring managers to avoid over-reliance on social media and online job boards as the fix-all to finding good candidates.

"We use the large job boards and we do keyword searches for the skills that we're looking for," Workman says. "It casts a wide net. But then it requires someone to go in and vet those candidates on paper because you get a lot of garbage with key words."

"Once you've vetted and narrowed those candidates down, there is just nothing that will replace some form of human interaction," Workman says.

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